Autumn 2019 Pastoral Letter from the Deputy Superintendent

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Embarking on an adventure

At this time of year many people within the Methodist Church are standing on the threshold of a new phase of life and ministry. Presbyters and deacons across the country have been saying their farewells to churches and congregations as their present appointments come to an end. They then enter the brief "in-between" time, before they take up their new appointments in September, or begin a new phase of life and ministry.

In our own Circuit we have said our farewells to our Superintendent Revd James Tebbutt and to Revd Ann Owen and Revd Graham Miles. We are deeply grateful for their ministry amongst us and we pray for God's blessing upon them as they stand on the threshold of the next stage in their Christian journeys.

We also remember that our new Superintendent Revd John Hellyer, together with Revd John McNeill and Revd Rachel Leather stand on the threshold of a new phase in their ministries and we hold them in our prayers as they begin in our Circuit.

On my recent sabbatical I did some thinking about "threshold experiences": the in-between time, as we cross from one place, perspective and context to another. This thinking was prompted by the fact that I spent some of my time on the sabbatical walking along the Offa's Dyke Path, travelling north from Welshpool to St Bueno's Retreat Centre near to the North Wales coast. At times the path took me into Wales and I could look across to the lower lying land of England. At other times, the path took me into England and I could look across the more mountainous landscape of Wales. Sometimes the path ran right along the top of Offa's Dyke and it was very hard to know if I was in Wales or in England.

This crisscrossing across the border got me thinking about thresholds — and crossing thresholds. Are there some thresholds in our journey of discipleship, as individuals, as a Circuit, as a national church that God is calling us to cross, but we are fearful of the change that crossing the threshold may bring? Or are there other thresholds that we should resist crossing? Are there "red lines" in our faith which, if crossed will undermine the integrity of discipleship? In this coming year we pray for the Spirit's guidance as we seek to trace God's "providential way" for us in our individual journeys of faith and as we journey together as a church.

So sometimes we have to decide which thresholds to cross and which thresholds we should not cross. In another sense, however, I think Christians are called by God to live permanently "on the threshold". This is not about "sitting on the fence" and never coming to any decision about the way to move forward. Rather, it is about seeking to live, here and now, in that liminal space between earth and heaven.

In Philippians 3:20 Paul says: "our citizenship is in heaven". As Christians we are called to engage with the realities of life in this world, but, at the same time, to live as citizens of heaven. This can be an uncomfortable, even dangerous, place to stand. It means we resist the temptation to fully align with the values and priorities of the world around us, but neither do we seek to escape from the world around us into a separate Christian utopia.

So, as we stand on the threshold of a new Connexional year, let us pray that God will give us strength to live faithfully in the world, as citizens of heaven.

Simon Topping, Deputy Superintendent

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